Adopting the Pomodoro Technique in Transcribing

After the fun part of collecting data, it is time to transcribe the interviews before I could start any data analysis. I never knew that I dread transcribing to the point that I simply hate it, like no kidding. It is that bad. Probably because it feels funny to listen to my own voice. Besides, it is frustrating to keep rewinding in order to capture some words and understand the context correctly. Obviously, I understood the conversation during the interview, but for some reasons, it sometimes sounds unclear over the recording.

I am guilty of procrastination. I would find something else to do, as long as I don’t have to transcribe. But then it also means I am not progressing towards completing my study. Deep down, I know damn well that the interviews have to be transcribed eventually. I had also underestimated how time-consuming transcribing is.  In short, I just have to do it, no matter how much I do not feel like doing it, or no matter how long it will take.

When I read about the Pomodoro technique, I became intrigued to see if it would help me to just start and keep transcribing until I finish it. Pomodoro is, simply put, working 25-minute on a task, uninterrupted. So set the alarm for 25 minutes and spend the entire pomodoro time on the task you set out to do until the 25 minutes is up. Then take a 5-minute break before another round of pomodoro. After completing four pomodoros, it is time for a longer 20- to 30-minute break.

Professionally, a one-hour interview takes between 4-9 hours to transcribe. Of course, how long it takes depend on many factors like the number of speakers and audio quality.  In my interviews, there were at least 3 speakers, and sometimes up to 7 speakers. Therefore it takes multiple attempts to listen to the recording over and over, especially when everyone was talking at the same time. Still, I wanted to know roughly how longer it will take me to finish transcribing all my interviews. One month? Two months? So I started to time myself. I tried the Pomodoro technique. Surprisingly, I didn’t want to stop even though 25 minutes was up. But I still took a break, which often ended up being more than 5 minutes. I did it for a few times, but later decided to push one pomodoro to over 25 minutes.

Now, on average I can transcribe about 40 plus minutes before taking a break. The longest time I managed to stay put was 102 minutes. But it happened only once, more like a marathon final sprint to just finish the last part of the recording. So I need 14-20 minutes to transcribe a 1-min interview, which means to complete a one-hour interview, it will take between 13-21 hours over 1-5 days with plenty of breaks in between. So instead of setting 25-minutes for one pomodoro, I set a goal to complete two minutes of interview every pomodoro, even if it takes more than 25 minutes. Once I complete two minutes of interview, I try to push further before taking a break because once I take a break, it is never 5 minutes, ever.

My transcribing productivity is far behind the professional standard, but I am slowly, slowly progressing towards completion. Perhaps and hopefully with practice, transcribing gets easier and faster. As for now, just keep on transcribing. One pomodoro, two pomodoros, three pomodoros…until I finish them all.

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Advice on Finishing Your PhD

A PhD study often feels overwhelmed with the workload. So much to do, lots more to read, and even more challenging to write. Throughout this journey, I occasionally receive motivation, sharing from people who had walked the journey. Everyone’s journey is different, full with different challenges and excitements. Here are a few pieces of advice, which I find really helpful in getting me through the down or stagnant moments in this journey.

 

1. Life is a struggle

There are always challenges in whatever you do in life. Nothing in life comes easily. You face different difficulties when you study, when you work, when you get married, etc. Doing a PhD has its hardship too. When you feel that what you do is hard, remember that even if you are working, there are things that you will find hard as well. Once you decide to take up a PhD, face the challenges and learn to deal with them. But if a PhD is not what you are looking for, then do something else. Either way there will be struggles.

 

2. Find your best time to write

Everyone has a different best time to write. Some find it best to write in the morning whereas some prefer to do it at night or even after midnight. It is important to find your best time to write. No matter what, write something during that time. Even just a little but do it every day. This helps so that you don’t feel the need to sit in front of the laptop the whole day, which is not so productive since you can’t write the whole time anyway. It is okay to do other stuff at times other than your writing time. I need to start adopting this. I don’t know what is my best time to write but I am a noctural person who feels more awake at night then in the morning. My writing motivation is driven by the task on hand, rather than writing at a specific time. Say if I have an assignment to finish, all I do is write that piece of assignment when I am awake until I finish the assignment. The only time when I’m not writing is when I am eating, taking a shower or sleeping. Knowing my best time to write would help so that I don’t feel like a zombie and totally burned out by the end of it.

 

3. Find your best place to write

Not only that, it is also equally important to look for the best place to write. Surprisingly, writing in a cafe or fast food restaurant like Mc’Donald works perfectly for some people. Some people need to write in places where it is quiet such as in a library. Believe it or not, home may not always be the best place to write since you can always find something to do at home. It is easy to stop writing and start doing house chores. I have yet to find my best place to write but I can write just fine at home once the momentum is there. Just that I can’t do transcribing at home. I tend to stop after transcribing a few lines and start doing something else – surf the net, watch movie, get some snacks or play the piano – which is why it takes days for me to transcribe one interview. So far I found it productive to transcribe in the postgraduate room or library where there are people around (but not noisy). I guess it is the sense of “yay, I am also doing my work” that prevents me from doing any other thing except transcribing.

 

4. Always bring a notebook (and don’t forget a pen too!)

I have this habit when I work. A notebook is like my life. Out of the blue, even during lunch, there is always something important to remember. I would never leave the house without my notebook. As a PhD student, I carry a notebook too but not as often as I should. Since I use a voice recorder for my data collection, I start to record conversation, as well as any thoughts that come to my mind. I find it easier than writing on a notebook but listening to the recording after that takes time. I use both – a notebook (mostly) and a voice recorder, depending on what I am trying to record. Funny thing with ideas is they often appear when you least expect them to. When I am sitting on a desk with a laptop and a notebook, all I sometimes do is stare at the notebook. Nothing comes. But say, I am driving or playing the piano, suddenly something would come to the mind. Mostly it happens when I am half-asleep, or maybe half-awake and “ting!” the idea comes. If I don’t write or record it down, I sometimes don’t remember it again after. So yes, always bring a notebook (or recorder) as you never know when you need it!

 

5. You have not failed until you quit

I always feel the struggle while trying to understand my conceptual framework, to figure out my research methodologies, to improve my interview skills, to make sense of my data. Not easy. But then I realised it has also never been easy while I was working. My supervisor once said, the easy way out is to quit. Rather true. No matter how tough it is, quitting is the easiest solution. It is okay to make mistakes since PhD is all about learning and discovering new things. Nothing about these two is easy. It will always feel difficult and frustrating until you get it right. As long as you keep progressing, eventually you will reach the destination.